Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brian Davies

Over at, a post on a new book by Brian Davies: Is God a Moral Agent?
One argument given by Davies that God is not a moral agent is that moral agents are under obligation to a moral law; he attributes this understanding to Aquinas. Is this a proper representation of Aquinas's definition of a moral agent? Could Davies's argument be restated, with Kantian terms thus: is God not a moral agent because he is autonomous while angels and humans are heteronomous, and only heteronomous beings are moral agents? Is this a case of equivocation causing misunderstandings? (It wouldn't be the first time with analytic philosophers.)

How does St. Thomas (or a traditional Thomist) define moral agency? We would look at the different sorts of agency present in creatures, starting with the distinction between voluntary and involuntary/natural. The question is whether by moral agency Aquinas adds anything to his notion of "perfect voluntary" agency. What texts does Davies cite to develop a definition of moral agency?

It is clear that human beings and angels are not God. Is good used analogically of God and creatures? Or equivocally? But if God is not a moral agent, can we say that He is morally good at all? It would seem from the short blurb given at that Davies does take his reasoning in this direction in order to establish a different Christian theodicy. It seems erroneous to me. If God cannot be said to be good, or is not essentially good, then what reason would He have to save us, rather than desiring our destruction or misery? Why should we not imitate His example, rather than submitting to a moral law?

I get the impression that Davies has missed the order of learning and is relying too much on premises taken from his reading of the text (foundationalism?), and then formulating arguments without being confirmed that his understanding of reality is correct.